When you hear a new speaker, someone you've never heard before, what is it about the way he presents that makes you feel he's someone you're going to like?  

       You respond immediately to what he has to say, you like the way he says it, and you settle in comfortably to absorb the gift he's giving you.

       But sometimes you don't feel that way.  Sometimes you can't concentrate on what's being said, your attention wanders, you squirm in your chair, look at your watch, and start thinking about what you'll have for lunch. What is it that turns you off? Are you just not in the mood to listen?  Or is there something the speaker is actually doing that makes it difficult or impossible for you to keep your attention focused on receiving his message?

       It's probably not your fault. More likely, and especially with speakers new at the game, they might be falling into a number of unconscious bad habits that all speakers are prey to. Notice that these are unconscious habits... things we do or say in everyday speech that, when talking to friends, family, colleagues or salespeople, we might use all the time with no problem. But when we speak in front of a group who are depending on us to tell them something they didn't know before, we have to be aware of the effect of every word we say.

       Here's a major unconscious habit that is easy to correct once we're aware of it.

"Thinking 'uhs or ums'"

       A speaker comes to the end of a sentence, then tacks on an "uh" before beginning the next sentence.  Maybe there's an "um" when she pauses in the middle of a sentence and then completes the thought.  When moving from one point to another, many speakers say "and... uh..." as transition words.  The 'ums and uhs' start at the beginning of the speech and continue on until the end.  If you counted, you'd find dozens in a 20 minute speech. 

       What's irritating and distracting about these "uhs and ums" is that it sounds like the speaker has forgotten what she wants to say, or can't remember what to say next, or has an extremely limited vocabulary.  Hearing an "um" at the end of every sentence is annoying!  The audience will begin to focus on them instead of the meat of the speech and tune out the information you really want them to get.  

       Other similar 'thinking words' that we need to avoid are:  "and", "y'know," "right?", "y'see," "yeah" and "okay." You've probably heard others.  They're all little words that we use when we need time to think about what to say next. "Y'know" is a particularly insidious one because often we really aren't aware we're using it, or if we are, we think we're asking the audience if they got what we just said. We're not. It's a thinking device.

       What to do instead?  Keep quiet!  Don't say anything!  When you come to the end of a sentence, pause for a moment in silence.  Take a deep breath.  In that moment, while you're breathing, you can decide what comes next. Silence is a great tool.  It benefits both you and the audience.  They get to absorb what you just said, while you think of your next thought, your next point, or your next move. When we're in the middle of a speech, for some reason we feel the need to keep talking, even if we're not quite sure what to say next.  So we use all these little thinking devices, "and... um... uh... y'know... right... y'see... okay... yeah."   

       Use the silence.  The audience will wait for you.  As a matter of fact, they'll be grateful for a quiet moment to think about the information you've just given them.  It's a little thing, but it means a lot.